Dez Dickerson’s awesome blink-and-you’ll-miss-it song (featuring Prince) in ‘Purple Rain’
08:51 am
Dez Dickerson’s awesome blink-and-you’ll-miss-it song (featuring Prince) in ‘Purple Rain’

Prince and Dez
Less than 60 seconds of a tune called “Modernaire” is heard in Purple Rain, the 1984 film starring Prince. The group performing the song, led by Prince’s former guitarist, is on screen all of fifteen seconds. For my best friend at that time, those tantalizing bits left him—and others (myself included)—wanting more. My buddy became obsessed with hearing the full track, and hunted high and low for a copy, but to no avail. After a while, we had to wonder: Is it even for sale? This was the pre-web days, when finding answers to questions like this wasn’t so easy. Turns out, it wasn’t obtainable, and decades would go by before “Modernaire” was released.

Dez Dickerson was the lead guitarist in Prince’s band from 1978 until 1983. During this period, Prince usually performed all of the instruments on his records, but that’s Dez playing the guitar solo on “Little Red Corvette.”
UK picture sleeve
Dickerson departed the Prince organization after the 1999 campaign ended in the spring of 1983. Though Dez was leaving to pursue a solo career, Prince still wanted the guitarist to be involved in the Purple Rain project. Dez was offered screen time in the film, which would highlight his new group and one of Dickerson’s songs.
Dirty Mind tour
Prince and Dez during the ‘Dirty Mind’ tour, c. 1980.

It’s believed that “Modernaire” was recorded in May 1983 at Prince’s home studio. At the time, Dickerson was in Minneapolis for a performance at the Minnesota Music Awards on May 16, which would be his last gig with Prince. The recording of “Modernaire” was very much a collaboration between Dez and Prince, who co-produced the sessions. Prince played all of the instruments and sang back-up vocals. Jill Jones, who was part of the Prince camp, recited a couple of lines from Romeo and Juliet, which are heard in reverse on the finished track.

In the fall of 1983, Warner Bros. expressed their interest in releasing “Modernaire” as a single. Prince even arranged for his managers to represent Dez, but a deal couldn’t be worked out with the label or any other. There was also talk of including it on the Purple Rain soundtrack album, but in the end, only Prince’s material was included. During the subsequent Purple Rain mania, Dez received a call from the Warner Bros. requesting a B-side and artwork, as they planned to put it out. But, ultimately, a “Modernaire” 45 never materialized.

Though the song was shaped to fit with the other music in Purple Rain, and wasn’t really reflective of his style, Dez grew to like the tune. Dickerson has said “Modernaire” is about “someone who is not just ahead of the curve, but around it already.”
CD cover
Twenty years passed before “Modernaire” was made available via the Dez Dickerson collection, A Retrospective, 1982-1987. Released through his website in 2005, the compilation was limited to 250 copies. The two-CD set of largely previously unreleased recordings marked the first time “Modernaire” was heard in full by the general public.
Modernaire 12-inch
In 2008, a 12-inch single of “Modernaire,” which included a handful of remixes, was released. Like his retrospective, it’s now out of print.

As it’s so hard to come by, and much of it is really good, we’re embedding a stream of the 2005 comp. See the track listing here.

One of the best tunes is the catchy “After Hi School,” which was re-recorded by Prince—with Morris Day handling the lead vocals—for the Time’s debut album. While Prince took a synth-funk approach for the track, Dez’s demo is a perfect example of the new wave pop/heavy guitar rock hybrid style that Dickerson preferred. 
The Modernaires
The Modernaires, c. 1983.

We found the Purple Rain scene with Dez and his band, the Modernaires, on YouTube. The quality is less than ideal, but it’s better than nothing, right?

We can’t end this post without recommending the amazing book, ‘Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984’ (2017). Author Duane Tudahl takes a deep dive into the subject, but his research went beyond recording dates and such, going in-depth on Prince’s life during those years, when he went from being a cult artist with a few hits to an international superstar.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Fascinating early Prince side projects that never got off the ground
Watch a fantastic Prince concert from 1982 that can’t be scrubbed from the Internet

Posted by Bart Bealmear
08:51 am



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